Runaway lovers still smiling 60 years on

Diamond Wedding couple Phil and Ann Hill who eloped to Gretna Green to get married. EMN-180529-151016009
Diamond Wedding couple Phil and Ann Hill who eloped to Gretna Green to get married. EMN-180529-151016009
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It may have been the complete opposite of a Royal Wedding, but a Peterborough couple made headlines of their own 60 years ago by daring to sneak away from their families and elope to Scotland.

It was quite the scandal in June 1958 when farmer’s son Philip Hill (20) and 17-year-old Ann Dunleavy (now Hill) ran off to Gretna Green to tie the knot, with their parents discovering their whereabouts from a newspaper article.

An old clipping from when the couple got married

An old clipping from when the couple got married

But hiding out in a tin shed was not as glamorous as the recent Royal nuptials for the then cash-strapped couple who had to wait three weeks before being allowed to tie the knot in a registrar office.

“In 1958 Peterborough was a lot different. People just did not do things like that,” recalled Ann, who had moved to the city from Ireland with her Catholic father.

The lovestruck couple had met in February that year at a dance in Werrington after Philip had returned from the army, and it was only a few months later that they contemplated their shock trip.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time. It was a nice three week holiday!” said Philip, sitting beside his wife at their home in Cathedral Green Court, Crawthorne Road.

A photo of the couple from June 3, 1958

A photo of the couple from June 3, 1958

English law at the time stopped couples under 21 from marrying without their parents’ consent, which would not have been forthcoming for Ann or Philip. But it was different in Scotland, and Gretna Green was the first village couples would come across when crossing the border.

Ann said: “We had nowhere to stay and not a lot of money so we lived in a tin shed in the back of a hotel for three weeks. There was one gas ring and a kettle. We were friendly with the other couples. The ones from Birmingham, their parents came and fetched them.”

Philip added: “Bread and jam - that’s all we lived on for three weeks!”

The couple married 60 years ago today (Sunday, June 3) and both agreed their escape would never be repeated now. Fortunately, they were able to smooth things over with their families on their return.

Philip, who drove lorries for Perkins Engines, remembers seeing Ann’s dad for the first time after their marriage - “He was not too bad. He said ‘you’ve done it, make sure you take care of her and go to church every week’.”

Married life began by living in a caravan as they waited three years for a council house. Ann later gave birth to Martin and Trevor, but Martin sadly passed away when he was just three. They have since been blessed with granddaughters Louise and Alison and great-grandson Teddy.

The secret to their successful marriage is “give and take” according to Philip.

Ann said: “You have to work at it. We are good pals which is half the battle. We look back and laugh at the things we’ve done. I was in the front of the queue when they dished the husbands out, and I’m very lucky.”